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THE Lost Honor OF Katharina Blum

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
Criterion 177
1987 / Color / 1:37 / 106 104, 100 min. / Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann / Street Date February 25, 2003 / $29.95
Starring Angela Winkler, Mario Adorf, Dieter Laser, Jürgen Prochnow, Heinz Bennent, Hannelore Hoger, Rolf Becker, Harald Kuhlmann, Herbert Fux, Regine Lutz, Werner Eichhorn, Karl Heinz Vosgerau
Cinematography Jost Vacano
Production Designer Ute Burgmann, Günther Naumann
Film Editor Peter Przygodda
Original Music Hans Werner Henze
Written by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta from the novel by Heinrich Böll
Produced by Willi Benninger, Eberhard Junkersdorf
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Germany in the early 70s faced a wave of terrorism from 6 anarchists who robbed banks and kidnapped industrialists. The nation responded by passing laws restricting freedoms and giving powers allowing the police to abuse civil rights while rooting out the anti-social element. The German yellow press became a major accomplice in the smearing of many individuals tainted by association, or just the accusation of association, with possible anarchists. It was proven on at least one occasion (shown in a docu accompanying the feature) that the press accidentally reported a raid before it actually happened - a conspirator's flub identical to an incident in the 'radical' film Z.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, a daring film by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta, is a fictional story by libertarian writer Heinrich Böll accusing the police and the press of crimes that actually instigate violence. The story of one woman's transformation by scandal has a terrible parallel in what is happening now in the United States, as we erode our basic rights in the name of Homeland Security.


Private maid Katharina Blum (Angela Winkler) has an affair with a stranger one night; the next morning her apartment is invaded by police who arrest her as an accomplice to a terrorist known as Ludwig Goetten (Jürgen Prochnow). She's humiliated and paraded before the press as if her guilt were a foregone conclusion. Police Komissar Beizmenne (Mario Adorf) colludes with reporter Werner Toetges (Dieter Laser) to smear Blum's name in the papers, as a pressure tactic. Blum's mother is in a critical condition in a hospital, and Toeges barges in demanding a statement, which hastens the woman's death; ex-lover Alois Sträubleder (Karl Heinz Vosgerau) is terrified that he'll be linked with Katharina's supposed anarchistic tendencies. As it is, Katharina has only her personal honor to defend, and having been made a social pariah by the newspapers, she has nothing to lose ...

Poor Katharina Blum is guilty only of falling in love. The criminal she's befriended is just that, an Army deserter who stole official funds. But in the terror-crazed police culture of her country, he's pursued as a terrorist, a convenient label that allows the authorities to search and arrest, detain and harass, without limit.

In Touch of Evil, Charlton Heston's character says that a policeman's work is only easy in a police state, and Katharina faces off against police and newsmen who act like gangsters. Police chief Mario Adorf threatens and cajoles her, insults her dignity and besmirches her virtue, all to wrest information from the unbelieving but strong Ms. Blum. Her travails are documented in a straightforward narrative; she's guilty only of desiring to live without having to betray those she loves.

It doesn't do her much good. A wealthy or influential person might have resources to cope with the press and the cops, but Blum can do nothing when they elicit cheap gossip about her from her ex-husband and neighbor. When he doesn't hear what he wants, reporter Toetges just makes it up, barging into Katharina's mother's intensive care room, frightening her with accusations about her daughter she doesn't understand.

The most shocking moment is early on, when the Police Chief is transporting Katharina, and dozens of invited photographers show up to photograph her. In order to get a properly suspicious-looking photo, the cops jerk her head and pull her hair. When she struggles, the pictures taken make her look like a desperate criminal.  1

Expertly directed and acted, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum is a gauntlet of a movie that reportedly put its makers on the same 'abetting terrorists' list as people like the fictional Ms. Blum. Angela Winkler is amazingly good in the part, just naive enough to be sympathetic, and tough enough not to collapse under the pressure. It's a harrowing ordeal that coincides with the death of her mother, a loss that crushes her, but also leaves her free to defend her 'honor' the best way she knows how.

Criterion's DVD comes with extras that enlarge and illuminate the perspective on the social background for The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. The directors explain the background of the picture in a new interview, and cameraman Jost Vacano (RoboCop) details the production. But best of all is a lengthy Italian docu on story source Heinrich Böll. The activist author outlines the reactionary oppression of 1974 Germany, all started by fear of terrorism but abused by authorities and certain publishers to turn that fear into profit and power. There are some major differences between what happened there (fear of the Bader-Meinhoff gang: 6 pitiful anarchists) and what has happened here in the U.S. after 9.11. But the result is the same: civil liberties threatened, and dissent squelched by corporate-owned media that promote fear of Terror.

The transfer is excellent. The disc also restores two minutes cut for the film's American release. A powerful show, indeed. The subtitle of the original release translates (thanks to helpful Sue Wyman) as, "how violence originates and to where it can lead".

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: video interviews, Italian Docu, trailer, essays
Packaging: AGI case
Reviewed: March 18, 2003


1. I saw this sort of thing happen right here in LA in the middle 1980s. Nancy Reagan visited Los Angeles, and our police chief Darryl Gates took her on a drug raid for a publicity photo op. On televsion's KTLA channel 5, we saw a Tank break down the door of a South Central LA house, without warning. The cops rush in and arrest everyone - just a family of terrified children, and their mother. No drugs, no guns, no criminals were found. But the news showed the chief escorting the First Lady through the house, past the cowering residents, where she made some inane remark about 'How these people live' and said something about 'Say no to Drugs'. It was shocking - we just had to take the Chief's word that there was some reason to attack that particular house. Think of it - denounce your neighbor and delight while his home is wrecked, his possessions stolen, and his Honor thrown to the dogs.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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